Despite the downturn, there were still 450 harness racing fans willing to stump up the $150 a ticket to pay tribute to the past season's greats at the recent Awards Night held at the Christchurch Convention Centre.
And I'd venture to say that not one of those souls left disappointed as co-hosts Jess Davidson and Mark Rosanowski led us down a memory lane of excellence in a most professional, yet entertaining manner.
Apart from the muted response to Changeover winning the 5yo+ pacer title (although how anyone thought the NZ Cup winner wouldn't, I can't imagine), each category winner was pretty much as per the form book, and was greeted with enthusiasm and the accolades they deserved.
Of course the night was always going to be the Dexter Reactor show and so it proved. Along with the leading driver award, the three Kindred Bodies (sorry, I hate that term, however makes it a lot shorter than the three full titles) felt that the young man deserved more recognition for his season's efforts on and off the track so combined to present him with a special Achievement award. The prolonged standing ovation that accompanied his recognition showed that this was well received and supremely justified. I still recall Kirstin Barclay referring to Dexter as the ''freak'' a couple of years ago on Trackside – how prophetic were those words? I like to think of him as the perfect package – probably either describe him adequately.
The other half of the star turn Auckland Reactor (unfortunate name for those South of the Bombay Hills) also received the acclaim that he and his connections deserved. When the dust had settled it was left to Managing Owner John Curtin to drop the not totally unexpected bombshell that the horse was USA bound in the new year. I watched Mark Purdon when this was being announced, but whatever he was feeling inside, the cool professional showed nothing, simply dispaying that thoughtful grin that we know so well.
The initial Unsung Hero award was taken out by a much deserving Anne Phillips (one of the Associations nominations) who is well known for her work with young people and many other avenues in the Industry. And there is the problem really. While Anne and the other three names selected from the original seven are undoubtedly heroes, are they really unsung? Don't get me wrong, I think such an award is a wonderful concept, and good on the Carvilles for putting up the idea and the sponsorship but I'm not sure that the Industry has quite come to grips with the word 'unsung'. We had two journalists, who put their names to most of what they do, a Club marketing guru who pretty much everyone in the Industry has heard of, and a lady who has had a lot of coverage over the years and, with her husband represented New Zealand at the recent World Conference. Are they really unsung? Of course the other issue is the public voting system. While HRNZ made sure that there was only one vote from the same computer (which caused a few grizzles from couples!) this type of voting is similar to, say, local body elections where people vote for names they recognise. Which makes a mockery of the title 'unsung'. Still, to be fair HRNZ had little time to arrange the award and, being on the Awards Committee, I have already put forward my thoughts and been assured that changes will be made.
However, to me the highlight of the evening was the recognition of 'me ol' mate' Jim Dalgety, also the recipient of a prolonged standing ovation after a superb introductory speech by Jim Wakefield. As always modest and unassuming, Jim D. regaled his room full of admirers with some humorous anecdotes and disclaimers of his deservedness of the recognition. It was obvious the audience strongly disagreed. He later confided to me that he was ''s***ting his pants'' as he walked up to the stage, wondering what he was going to say. He needn't have worried. Having done some research on the man prior to the night, it was astounding to find his less well known achievements. Not may people know he bred the dam of Lord Module, so along with importing and standing Bachelor Hanover, the sire of Noodlum, he was directly responsible for two of the household equine names of our Industry. Add that to all his other achievements on the track and his human legacy of son Cran (leading trainer and nurturer of arguably two of the leading drivers ever) along with Robert Dunn who learnt his trade under Jim, it is an astounding legacy. However what is most spoken of when the Dalgety name is mentioned, is the willingness to help and impart knowledge from that seemingly endless well of his to anyone who asks for it. He might often take a slightly roundabout way of getting it across, but who would have it any other way!
Peter T Cook
Most people who own racehorses understand you may never get a good one, and can only dream of being so lucky.
This season young trotting star The Fiery Ginga has earned more that $71,000 in a busy debut season, winning seven races (in a row), along with six seconds and two thirds from 18 races, a record for a juvenile square-gaiter.
He was the red hot favourite to win his premier end-of-season assignment, the $100,000 2YO Ruby on Harness Jewels day at Ashburton. Although he faltered in tMost people who own racehorses understand you may never get a good one and can only dream of being so lucky.
This season young trotting star The Fiery Ginga has earned more than $71,000 in a busy debut year, winning seven races (in a row), along with 6 seconds and twhat most important assignment, it was only after trying his heart out,starting from the unruly position, racing three wide from the 1000 metres, then roaring home to finish second behind Jinja Gal.
So why would his owners, Alan Clark, his wife Fiona and friend Steve Thompson (a Dunedin accountant who bred The Fiery Ginga and still owns his dam), want to sell their brilliant young trotter?
''I've always been a seller. That is what has put me in the position I'm in now,” Clark says.
Clark, who trains The Fiery Ginga, and wife Fiona, are both retired. They live on a 20 acre (8 hectare) property in Mosgiel and earn a comfortable living developing and selling trotters. So far this year they have sold three, but still have 18 horses on their property.
''We are cutting the numbers down,'' Clark says. ''It's purely financial''. All their horses are on the market and Clark doesn't mind which ones sell. There have been ''quite a few calls'' about The Fiery Ginga, which is for genuine sale. However potential owners will need to have deep pockets because Clark has a serious, but confidential, price tag on him.
''A horse like him comes along very seldom, so he is not cheap.''
However Clark is confident the gelding has the potential to win back his purchase price next season as a three year-old. ''He has the X-factor. He hasn't just got juvenile speed, he has tremendous stamina as well''.
The fine son of CR Commando and Anreca Hest also has the manners to match his brilliance. ''He is a lovely horse to handle and work with. He's a very kind horse. My wife Fiona works him at home,'' Clark adds.
Possibly not for much longer though, for if someone comes up with the right money, The Fiery Ginga will be out the gate on his way to new owners and a new stable, hopefully somewhere in New Zealand.
When a race driver turns for home and sets sail for the winning post these days, it seems that this is the vexing question that has to be at the forefront of his or her mind.
How many times have I wielded the whip, am I doing it the right way, is the horse responding, is the horse being lazy, am I being vigorous enough, are the Stipendiary “doing the math”?
This thorny topic has been prominent on the agenda of our last few meetings with the Stipendiary Stewards and, while at this point reasonable compromises appear to have been reached, apparently the issue is not going to go away. In these days where we are gradually reaching a point that swatting flies could lead you to a session in court, it is almost inevitable that sooner or later the use of whips will be banned. Well, at least in Harness Racing anyway!
At our last meeting, your National Council asked that evidence be produced of the reports of ''little old ladies'' complaining about the excessive use of whips on our horses, but while this was not forthcoming, it was acknowledged by all present that the trend overseas of no whips in any form of racing would eventually reach our shores. It was also suggested by Council members that many of the alleged complaints emanated from television viewers watching racing beamed in from Australia and thinking that it was local. We have all seen some pretty disturbing footage from across the ditch of horses being flogged unnecessarily.
I think it is fair to say that compared to the situation say twenty years ago, there has been a massive change in both attitudes and methods from the ''head down, bum up, bash and flog'' method that was prevalent then, and that is as it should be.
It is interesting to note that at the recent World Trotting Conference held in this Country, overseas delegates were adamant that misuse of whips was not an issue in New Zealand.
Be that as it may, eventually the silent majority will, as usual, be swamped by the vociferous PC Brigade at some stage, but the Stipendiary made it clear that until then the vigilance (and fines) will continue.
The Trainers & Drivers National Council rejected a suggestion that the reins should be held in each hand while the whip is being used, and even some of the Stipendiary Stewards considered that to be an unsatisfactory solution, describing it as ''ugly”, so mercifully that idea was dropped.
I was going to continue that, generally speaking, it is not the guys who drive regularly who are incurring fines, which suggests either that they are experienced enough to have modified their whip action to fit the necessary criteria, or that they are given preferential treatment. However, that fellow Murphy stepped in and arranged for Tony Herlihy to cop $150 for excessive use of the whip last night – I guess that either confirms or denies either of the aforementioned scenarios.
At our meeting with the Stipendiary it was also agreed that instruction on whip action should be an important part of the Cadet School curriculum. However for those who are past that stage, there were a couple of handy hints from those who police the Rule.
These were, keep your elbows tucked into your body, on the backward stroke try to bring the whip up so that it almost touches the peak of your cap, and observe the leading drivers (with the possible exception of Mr Herlihy the other night!)
Remember, the whole thing is based around perception and while it can be difficult to focus on such things when the adrenalin is flowing, it could save you a dollar or two. Ironically one of the Drivers recently penalised is the husband of one of the more vociferous campaigners against whip misuse – shows it can happen to anyone!
It's fair to say that many people were slightly mystified as to how a new stable complex at Addington Raceway constructed mainly of concrete slabs could come to cost just short of $7 million. That is, until they stepped inside the building and experienced what was involved in making it the sensational, world-class facility that it undoubtedly is
Even Greater Canterbury Branch Chairman Anthony Butt, who along with Peter Ryder, Dave Anderson and Mark Jones, had been regularly consulted on various aspects of the construction, was genuinely amazed when he finally sighted the finished product.
Now for someone who, these days, has trouble remembering which shoe goes on which foot, my memory of when the idea for new stables at Addington was first floated was pretty hazy. I dare say that, on many a Winters (and hey even Autumn and Spring) night for many decades past, the need for such a complex had been expressed in colourful terms by those involved, however, to find out when any official noises were first being made, I decided to trawl back through Greater Canterbury Branch minutes (yes thank you, I'm fully aware I need to get out more) to find out.
Frankly, even though I was involved in the said meetings, I was astonished to find that the first mention of the need for a new stable block dated back to May 1993! Yes that is 16 years ago. Even more interesting was a report on a meeting with the then Directors of Addington Raceway in July 1993, where Trainers & Drivers Assn. Reps were assured that the building of a new stable block was to be the next priority after the installation of new lighting!
During those subsequent 16 years, a number of plans were hatched, including covering the existing stables (never a goer), building them on the mound at the end of the main stand (still way too far away), sticking them underground, (too expensive) first in front of the Main Sand, then Twiggers, behind Twiggers and even under the Twiggers Stand. Some of these were reasonable options, until it was discovered that these stands could not be altered without virtually re-building them from scratch to satisfy current building specifications. Through all this the Greater Canterbury Branch took part in endless discussions and given countles assurances until at last, the late John Penney thankfully said ënough” and thanks to valuable work by former CEO Mike Godber, a final resting place was decided upon and the business was done.
However, we must not dwell in the past, we should now look forward to many happy and comfortable years of enjoying the new facility, making full use of it by involving owners and friends by inviting them to meet and greet with the horses, horsemen and women, so that they feel part of the event instead of being almost entirely divorced from the action. To me that is what these stables are about, more of a community spirit which can only lead to improvements in everyone's attitude towards the Home of Harness Racing.
Not the least that of those poor devils who can recall washing down a horse at 10:30pm on mid-Winters night!
Peter T Cook
Okay, hands up those who, when they realised the Judicial Control Authority was to be run by a lady, raised their eyebrows, rolled their eyes and even expressed their feelings in words not spoken by the Queen, not in public anyway. I even witnessed it myself.
Six months later and my, how things have changed, at least among those of us who have met and had dealings with the lady in question.
With an impressive array of letters after her name, including having been a Queens Counsel for 10 years, what we have here is no ordinary lawyer. Thirty years experience has seen her tackle most aspects of the legal profession, including police disciplinary actions, mediation, and appearances before the Privy Council not far from where the aforementioned Queen resides. Other strings to her bow include Chair of the Law Society Ethics Committee and the Mental Health Review Tribunal, the latter experience being of use when dealing with some elements of the Racing Industry!
So that is what she has done to date, what of her current role. To start with, she has spent much of the past few months touching base with various organisations, including the Trainers & Drivers Association. Following an initial informal meeting with John Lischner and myself, she travelled to Auckland to attend the recent National Council meeting and made a very favourable impression with her forthright attitude, progressive thought patterns and willingness to listen, something that has not always been evident in those previously involved in the JCA hierarchy.
Her broad aim is to lift the professionalism and thus the reputation of the JCA. She sees professionalism as including competence, transparency and open communication, combined with high standards of ethics and integrity. She is committed to the independence and impartiality of the JCA and will work to ensure the Authority has the respect that such an organisation should have from other Industry factions.
How is this to be achieved, I hear you ask. Well, already Kristy has rattled a few cages by introducing compulsory two man panels, relocating the JCA office to Wellington, instigating a complete performance review of all past enquiries with follow up training to improve performance, ordered a review of facilities, and most important for our members, instigated plans for an education programme so that license-holders who end up in the enquiry room have some idea of how to handle themselves, be more aware of their rights, and also how to behave in front of a JCA panel. Your Association will be working with Kristy in the development of this training regime, with the possibility of a DVD being produced. More on that soon.
Other plans include weekly appeal hearings (isn't that music to every ones ears), the appointment of senior barristers with experience in other sports, and increased efforts to employ retired horsemen to enhance the quality of JCA panels. (If anyone has ideas of suitable candidates for the latter, please let us know and we can pass on the information).
So as you can see initial trepidation from the Industry participants has very quickly been replaced by healthy respect and a feeling that Kristy is just what the Judicial Control Authority needed. We'll keep you posted on developments as they happen.
Peter T Cook
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